The Fort Dodge Community School District modifies its curriculum annually in hopes of achieving the best method of instruction for its students, both in terms of assessment scores and developing long-term skills.
The changes in curriculum, though, don't necessarily translate immediately into improved assessments scores.
At the regular meeting of the FDCSD school board Monday, board President Stuart Cochrane asked how the changes in curriculum correlate with yearly assessment scores, which seem to have "plateaued."
"I was looking at the assessment scores that look like they had plateaued and noting that there's a number of what I think are really good curriculum moves that are being made," Cochrane said Friday. "We talked about RTI (Response to Intervention) and some other things that are being done and they seem really good, they seem like a best practice approach, but I want to make sure that when we're adopting these new best practice approaches that, at the same time, it's being related to what we're seeing in the assessments."
Cochrane said the district does a "great job" of continuing to look at assessments and how they relate to the curriculum in place. For instance, adapting the district's math curriculum in response to declining elementary assessment scores.
"We're always looking at not making changes one year ahead or two years, but trying to look at what we think is going to work long-term as we continue to evaluate our assessments and then trying to put in place good tools to get there," he said.
Doug Van Zyl, FDCSD superintendent, said that while the curriculum changes are helping students achieve both long-term skills and improved assessment scores, not all teachers are as eager to adopt new practices.
Some teachers first need to see new techniques in practice and achieving positive results before personally adopting them, he said.
"There are some people that are just more comfortable making changes in how they do things in their classroom. We have quite a few of those folks," he said Friday. "We also have folks that really feel strongly about their past practices and they need that concrete data and the opportunity to see things impacting kids positively."
Teachers have the opportunity to explore and adopt new strategies through regular professional development sessions, Van Zyl said.
Every technique is not adopted all at once, though. The district has to be focused on what its teachers present, not practicing so many techniques and strategies it becomes difficult to discern which are having the most positive and negative effects.
Another issue, Van Zyl said, is that assessments do not always present an accurate picture of student growth.
"Assessments can only give you a small snapshot of a student's performance on that day. And just like with all of us, our performance can vary from day to day," he said. "There's a lot of things that just a paper and pencil or computer test cannot evaluate or determine in students. That's why we do real world strategies and practice in the classroom. Opportunities to dialogue and work with each other are hard to assess."
According to Van Zyl, it is more important that the district's students have long-term skills, which are not easily assessed, over a demonstration of core knowledge.
"We have to make sure our students are well-versed in that, but most employers don't take a look at that," he said. "They take a look at citizenship skills, like creativity and collaboration, and tests don't do a good job of assessing that. We know we're accountable for that."
Cochrane said he thinks the district's standing curriculum is successful.
"I think we do a really good job of evaluating the curriculum on an annual basis and looking at different techniques that we can buy into to continue to still show good growth," he said. "I like the fact that we're putting in place every year new ideas and new best practice teaching methods for our teachers."
Cochrane specifically applauded the changes to the math curriculum.
"We looked at the math and said, hey, we need to work on a new curriculum and now they're evaluating new curriculum," he said. "I like the fact that we're not status quo every time. We see that there's the possibility of a better method out there. We're continuing to explore new curriculum, new models, so we're not just staying stagnant."